Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village

After an exciting day at Hobbiton and thrilling evening at the Tamaki Maori Village the rest of my tour group left for Taupo the next day. However, I had already booked another four nights in Rotorua and I was keen to explore this unique New Zealand town further. With the smell of sulphur lingering in the air I was eager to learn more about the geothermal activity in Rotorua and the surrounding areas. I decided to walk to Whakarewarewa which was not only a living Maori village, but it also had active geothermal activity and was one of the most interesting places I visited whilst in New Zealand.

For over 200 years the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao tribe have welcomed visitors into their uniquely placed village, opening the doors to their culture and interesting way life and sharing the geothermal treasures which bubble away in the background. Located in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley I was able to experience the Maori culture and heritage of the village. I decided to participate in the guided tour to understand more about the Maori culture within the village and of course the geothermal activity. The guided tour allows you to explore the authentic Maori village and observe the Maori people use the geothermal resources to cook and heat their homes. The local Maori people demonstrated how they cook the traditional Hangi meals using the steam boxes and cook corn in the bubbling water from the geothermal hot pools – as they have for generations. The are opportunities to visit historical landmarks and buildings, including an active Marae, WWII Memorial Archway, two historic churches, and tapu (sacred) burial grounds. I was also interested to read about what happened at Mount Tarawera and the famous Pink and White Terraces. On 10th June 1886, the mountain erupted obliterating the terraces killing around 120 people and burying villages in ash, scoria, and other debris. Today the mountain is dormant, but the event created the Waimangu Geyser which is the largest geyser in the world. A plaque and memorial of this disaster can be found in the village. The Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people – the residents of the village – have a proud history of song and dance spanning over a century and they performed traditional song and dance and the fearsome Haka!

Of course, as well as the interesting cultural heritage of the Maori village the geothermal activity of the village was also fascinating and another reason for visiting the village. Located in the southern area of the Rotorua Geothermal Field the Whakarewarewa thermal area contains 500 hot springs, 65 geyser vents, colourful sinter terraces and vegetation unique to geothermal areas which quite beautiful. Several faults within the area provide pathways for geothermal fluids to travel from deep underground and reach the surface, either creating bubbling hot-pools, steaming vents, or erupting geysers which create a spectacular show for the observing visitor!

Each geyser in the Whakarewarewa area has a name, often derived from the geyser characteristics, or drawing on the names of local heroes. The most noted geyser of the region is the Pōhutu Geyser, which is the largest geyser in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere. The word “Pōhutu” means ‘big splash’ or ‘explosion’ with up to 15 spectacular eruptions per day that travel roughly 30 meters (100 feet) into the air! This combination of Maori cultural heritage and spectacular geothermal activity provides an interesting and exciting day out!

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